Parrot Bebop 2

The Parrot Bebop 2 is a smartphone-controlled drone with a 14-megapixel camera which offers 1080p video recording. The successor to the original Parrot Bebop model, it features a fisheye lens which allows for surprisingly judder-free footage and even boasts user-serviceable rotors. 

The USP of the Bebop 2 is the optional FPV pack, which includes a headset and professional-style flight controller, complete with sticks and buttons. Using this setup it's possible to get a first-person view of what the drone is actually seeing, which is a surprisingly immersive experience.

The catch is that, when you add the cost of the FPV pack to the price of the Bebop 2 itself, you're rapidly approaching the kind of sum you'd normally expect to splash on a more capable drone.

Price and availability

The Parrot Bebop 2 is available on its own for £439.99 / $549.99 / AU$649 direct from the manufacturer, although you can pick it up for less from third-party retailers. That price gets you just the drone itself, so you'll need to use a compatible smartphone as a controller. Alternatively, you can pick up the Bebop 2 FPV bundle, which includes the drone, the Parrot Skycontroller 2 and Parrot Cockpitglasses headset for £599.99 / $699.99 / AU$949.99.

Design

You'd be forgiven for assuming that the Bebop 2 is modest upgrade over the original Bebop, purely down to the fact that they look so similar. Thankfully, Parrot hasn't been that lazy; the Bebop 2 boasts a more robust design and a larger-capacity battery, addressing two of the big problems with the first Bebop.

The bodywork is now almost entirely plastic, save for some deformable polystyrene-type material around the camera. Each rotor has three blades, and these can be removed when the drone isn't in use. The massive 2700mAh battery slots onto the back of the unit itself, and has to be detached for charging.

Build and handling

The Bebop 2's design is unique in that it's not a single solid unit, but two main elements which are connected via a series of shock-absorbing rubber balls. The main body – which houses the camera and electronics, and onto which the battery clips – sits on top of these balls, and they reduce the impact of vibration on the camera itself.

While the Bebop 2 feels a little flimsy in the hand as a result of this design, it means video recording is less prone to shake from the powerful rotors on each arm.

The plastic rotors are removable, and have to be fitted to the drone itself using a special tool. The rotors are colour-coded – white for the front, black for the back – and have to be fitted to the correct arm before flying. There's a spare set of rotors in the box, and it's possible to order replacements if they get damaged. In fact, much of the unit is modular – it's possible to buy new motor units for the arms, too.

The Bebop 2's motors are pretty powerful, and it's able to hold its position even when being buffeted by relatively strong winds. Take-off and landing are easy, and the unit is clever enough to know when there's an issue which could cause problems – for example, if you try to take off in long grass that catches one of the rotors, the motors will turn off and you'll get an error message until you move the drone to a clear space. Some other drones, like the ZeroTech Dobby, lack this feature, and can flip over as a result, potentially causing damage.

When the drone's in the air there's a small amount of drift in positioning, but unless you're in a really cramped space – which is never recommended when flying a drone – it's not too much of an issue. The Bebop 2 is fast and responsive when airborne, and is capable of some surprisingly swift turns.

Performance

Out of the box the Parrot Bebop 2 is controlled via Parrot's own FreeFlight Pro smartphone app, which is available for iOS and Android. The drone connects to your handset via Wi-Fi, and a set of controls appears on the touchscreen. From here, you can use a twin-stick setup to maneuver the drone in the air; there are autonomous flight commands such as turns and and loops, and you can get the drone to follow a particular subject as well.

If you're feeling really fancy then you can create a flight plan for the drone to follow, but both this and the 'follow me' functionality cost extra to unlock, which could be considered a bit cheeky when you've just splashed out the best part of £500/$600 on your new drone.

The app automatically toggles between a 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless signal to ensure the drone is always under control, but should the link drop then the drone will remain stationary until you reconnect. The working range is claimed by Parrot to be 300 meters, but we struggled to get that kind of distance during our review as the connection would often drop off.

Most people won't be comfortable with flying a pricey drone so far away that they can't see it, so it's not a major issue, but if you're keen on putting some distance between yourself and the unit then it's worth noting that the FPV bundle's long-range Parrot Skycontroller 2 increases the operational range to 1.24 miles, thanks to its built-in wireless antenna.

The Parrot Bebop 2 can reach speeds of 37.28mph horizontally and 13.05mph vertically without, its makers claim, affecting image quality. The battery is quoted as offering 25 minutes of flight time but that's the best-case scenario; expect to get around 20.

Video capture

The Bebop 2 is that it uses a fisheye lens, complete with 170-degree field of vision, on its 14-megapixel camera, which allows for smoother video recording than on other drones. The unit doesn't record all of this image, but instead uses software routines to anticipate movement and keep the image steady. When the drone is performing a turn the software moves its focus to compensate, resulting in silky-smooth footage which is mercifully free of the shakiness exhibited by a lot of drones in this price range.

Video is captured at 1080p/30fps, and while it's a shame that 4K recording couldn't have been factored in, the quality is decent. The only negatives are that the fisheye lens can be susceptible to aggressive lens flare in certain lighting situations, and when you're flying even at quite close range the video feed is rather glitchy.

Parrot FPV Cockpitglasses and SkyController 2

As standard the Parrot Bebop 2 model can only be controlled using your smartphone and the Freeflight Pro application, but, as we've mentioned, Parrot also offfers a FPV package which includes its Cockpitglasses headset and SkyController 2 long-range controller with physical controls including mini-joysticks.

Like Samsung's Gear VR headset, the Cockpitglasses unit doesn't have its own screen or internal hardware, but instead uses your mobile phone to display what the drone is seeing.

One of the big issues with flying a drone is having to constantly look down at your phone's screen to see the drone's view of the world – something that isn't always easy when the drone is facing you and the controls are reversed. Parrot's FPV solution effectively removes this issue, as you're always seeing the drone's viewpoint, and you don't have the temptation to constantly switch your attention from your phone to the drone itself. As an immersive experience it's stunning; it really feels like you're flying.

The catch is that, when you are 'flying' you're almost completely unaware of what's happening around you in the real world, so it's probably a good idea to use this setup with a companion on hand who can make sure you're not about to wander into a tree or have your belongings stolen.

We liked

The Parrot Bebop 2's fisheye lens is a fairly novel feature on a drone, and when combined with the vibration-dampening design it can produce some amazingly stable and smooth footage. The quality of the camera is excellent too, and having around 20 minutes of flight time on a single battery charge enables you to capture plenty of photos and video before you need to recharge or swap out the battery.

It's the optional FPV pack really takes the Bebop 2 to the next level, though: being able to see what the drone is seeing is quite a strange sensation at first, but once you've experienced it it's hard to think about flying one of these things any other way.

We disliked

It's disappointing how glitchy the video feed gets when you're using your smartphone to control the Parrot Bebop 2, even at short distances; using the optional SkyController 2 solves this problem, but it's an additional cost on top of the price of the drone itself.

The fisheye camera lens is also susceptible to quite severe flare, which can ruin certain shots and videos. It's also disappointing that some of the FreeFlight Pro's autonomous functions are locked behind a paywall, especially when the Bebop 2 costs over £400/$500.

Final verdict

The Parrot Bebop 2 is a great entry-level drone for buyers who want to get a feel for aerial photography and video capture, and cuts the cost by allowing you to use your smartphone as a controller. However, if you can afford it then you really should fork out the extra for the FPV bundle – the experience of flying your drone from a first-person viewpoint is stunning, and more than justifies the additional cost over the base package.

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Damien McFerran

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